Termites in Palm Trees [Signs of Them + Treatment Options]

Termites in Trees

Several people have written to me after finding termites in their palm trees (Arecaceae). Finding termites anywhere around your property can induce fret but especially when you find termites on a beloved tree.

Let’s go over specific concerns I’ve heard about termites in palm trees and palm stumps. Here’s what I hear a a lot:

  • Are termites are attracted to palm trees?
  • How can I prevent termites from infesting my palms?
  • Should I worry about termite-infested palms near my home
  • How do I get rid of termites in my palm trees.

Let me know if you have questions about something I don’t cover in this article. You can get a hole of me on my contact page or by leaving a comment.

(Side Note: Learn more general advice on termites infesting trees here).

About termites in palm trees

The first point of confusion is often about whether termites can actually live in and infest palm trees, and, if so, how vulnerable palms are to termites.

Can termites live in palm trees?

Termites can and will eat palm trees because termites can eat anything containing cellulose, and, unfortunately, palm roots, trunks, branches, and leaves are all composed of cellulose.

Palm trees require significant moisture, and so do subterranean and dampwood termites. This means that, unfortunately, subterranean termites often live in the same areas as palm trees.

Subterranean termites start infesting palm trees near their roots, eventually working their way through the bark via mud shelter tubes, often inflicting significant damage before people notice these telltale signs of termite activity. Termites can eventually make their way into the core of a palm tree, too, but they often don’t get this far into a palm until it’s already seriously damaged or diseased.

How prone are palms to termite infestations?

Most tree species can become vulnerable to termites, especially as they age. Since palm trees tend to grow in humid climates, the same climate that subterranean termites thrive in, you might think palm trees are more prone to subterranean termite infestations than trees in drier climates (which typically have to fend off drywood termites). But desert termites eat palms in dry, arid climates too, so climate, by itself, doesn’t determine palm trees susceptibility to termites. Palms, unfortunately, are about as susceptible to termite infestations as most trees species.

Are all palm trees vulnerable to termites? Or are some more vulnerable than others?

Oil palm tree farmers in Southeast Asia lose up to 20% of their palm trees to subterranean termites, possibly because they’re grown in peat moss (which provides the moisture that subterranean termites require) and not necessarily stemming from some inherent vulnerability in oil palm trees. Vulcan Termite & Pest Control Inc. notes that termites along the Gulf Coast seem to particularly enjoy Foxtail Palms.

Parts of palm trees that termites attack

You now know that subterranean termites commonly infest palm trees. You may now wonder:

  • What parts of palm trees do termites eat?
  • Do termites only eat dead palm branches (fronds)?
  • Are palm trunks safe from termites? What about the roots?

In this section, we’ll discuss what parts of palm trees termites can affect.

Do termites eat palm tree roots?

Subterranean termites can eat palm tree roots. It’s feasible for drywood or dampwood termites to eat exposed palm tree roots, but this would be unusual. Subterranean termites can discover living or dead palm tree roots under the soil, so it’s no surprise that subterranean termites are the type of termites that often attack palm tree roots.

(Video showing termites eating a Cabbage Palm Tree’s trunk and bark)

Do termites eat palm tree bark?

Even though some palm tree bark is jagged and rough, it’s composed of cellulose. And, since termites eat cellulose, they can eat any portion of palm bark, though they tend to eat the inner palm bark more than the outer bark.

(Video of subterranean termites eating inner palm bark)

Do termites eat palm branches (i.e., fronds)?

Termites can eat palm branches (aka fronds) because they’re made of cellulose—termites’ food source. But, since palm fronds are near the top of palms, finding termites all the way up there means that your palm tree is likely seriously infested by termites (unless drywood termite swarmers found their way to the top of an already dead palm tree).

Do termites eat palm tree leaves?

Termites can and do eat palm tree leaves because they’re made of cellulose. Because of this, it’s good to dispose of fallen palm leaves on your property so they don’t attract termites to your property or trees.

(Video showing termites eating dead palm leaves on the ground.). Note: This is why it’s important to promptly clean up fallen palm leaves. Don’t leave material that attracts termites around your yard.)

Do termites eat palm tree stumps?

Termites will eat palm tree stumps. Stumps tend to decay quicker than standing dead trees, and drywood, dampwood, and subterranean termites can eat dead, decaying palm stumps.

Do palm trees attract termites?

Palm trees can attract termites, but so can anything with cellulose (including paper, leaves, cardboard, and many more materials). If you regularly remove dead palm fronds when they turn brown and don’t place mulch around the base of your palms, your palm trees shouldn’t attract termites any more than other types of trees.

How can I deter termites from palm trees?

To prevent termites from eating a palm tree, ensure that you promptly remove palm leaves and fronds that fall; trim dead fronds that are still attached to your palm; and remove any mulch that you have near the base of your palm trunks. All of these items contain cellulose, which can potentially attract termites to your palm trees.

Can I save a palm tree from termites?

If your palm tree is infested with termites, it’s likely the tree is already diseased, dying, or dead, but recent research shows that invasive Asian subterranean termites (aka Formosan termites) can eat living palms too.

One problem with palm trees is that they don’t have branches, just fronds (i.e., leaves), so you can’t just cut an infested branch off like you might with other types of trees.

Signs of termites in palm trees

You now know how termites can infest palm trees. But how can you know if there are termites eating at your palm without seeing them? Unfortunately, since it’s primarily subterranean termites that attack palm trees, they can do quite a bit of damage to palms before you notice. In this section, let’s learn about the clues of termite activity in palm trees you can look out for.

What are some signs of termites in palm trees?

Since subterranean termites most commonly infest palm trees, the most common sign of termites in palm trees to look for are termite mud tubes. These often extend from the ground up to the palm trunk (some can go quite high).

If you see mud tubes or termites themselves on palm trees, your palm is likely infested with termites. Another potential signal of termite activity is if your palm starts looking unhealthy without any other obvious signs of fungus or disease. If you notice this, it’s a good idea to contact a pest control professional to inspect your palm.

Getting rid of termites in palm trees

If you detect termite activity around your palms, your next step is figuring out how to exterminate the termites harming your trees.

Your first step is correctly identifying what type of termite is attacking your palm. We have an article that teaches you how to distinguish between the main types of termites here and your local university extension will have more location-specific information. Typically, subterranean termites are the type that harms palm trees.

If you have a tough time identifying the type of termite infesting your palm trees, either contact a pest control professional or snap a photo of the termites, mud tubes, discarded wings, or whatever potential evidence you see of them. Then send your images to a local university extension. They’re often glad to help you identify insects and the image and location of where you found the termites might assist one of their studies.

How to treat termites in palm trees

The first step in treating termites in palm trees is to remove anything that attracts termites to the tree. People often mulch around the base of the palms’ trunks. Though mulch can look nice, the moisture it traps and the cellulose source it offers attracts termites. Additionally, dead but attached palm fronds and fallen palm leaves also attract termites. If you have mulch or palm leaves on your property, remove them.

Next, assuming you’re dealing with subterranean termites, you can try:

1) applying liquid termiticide around the base of your tree
2) a termite bait system, designed to give the termites attacking your tree poisoned food that they’ll take back to the termite colony

(Video showing how to install subterranean termite bait stations around a palm tree)

Can Termidor be used on palm trees?

Termidor is not designed or labeled to be used on trees. It is only designed to be used around buildings and structures. But some folks claim Termidor doesn’t harm trees and works to treat subterranean termites infesting palm trees.

After treating palm trees for termites, can they come back?

Termites can come back even after you treat a palm tree for them. The typical palm tree termite treatment involves liquid termiticide poured into the soil around the tree or termite bait systems.

Both of these treatments target subterranean termites quite well, but even if you eradicate the subterranean termite colony currently attacking your tree, new subterranean termites can arrive later on.

Liquid termiticide treatment lasts approximately 5 years when applied to a trench around a house, so expect around 5 years of protection for your palm tree. Termite bait systems need to be regularly monitored for termite activity, and bait should be placed when termites are detected.

What if I need to cut down a palm tree with termites in it?

If you need to get rid of palm trees that are infested with termites, you should go ahead and remove the palm stump too. Don’t leave the palm stump, because doing so can leave a subterranean termite colony without food and ample protection to continue thriving in your yard. They might then spread to other nearby trees or buildings.

Termites in palm tree stumps

Quite a few people have written me after seeing termites on a palm stump near or on their property. Seeing termites anywhere near their property makes people understandably nervous. In this section, I’ll address some common questions I’ve heard about termites in palm tree stumps, including whether termites are attracted to palm stumps, how to prevent termites from infesting palm stumps, whether you need to worry about termites in palm tree stumps near your home, and how to get rid of termites in palm stumps.

Do palm stumps attract termites?

Palm tree stumps can attract termites. Dampwood and subterranean termites are attracted to decaying wood. From the ground, they can discover an old palm stump and infest it. It is possible for them to move from a palm stump to your home, so removing the stump is a good idea if you find termites or signs of termites on a palm tree stump in your yard.

How to prevent termites in palm tree stumps

The most reliable method is to completely remove the palm stump, but some folks prefer keeping certain palm stumps for aesthetic purposes, as seats, or as memories of a beloved tree. Whatever the reason, if you don’t want to remove it, treat the top and sides of your palm stump with three or more coats of polyurethane wood sealant.

This will not make your palm stump termite-proof, but it will deter termites. You could also apply termiticide around the stump or install termite bait stations, but doing so is quite a bit of work for a stump.

What to do about termites in a palm tree stump near your house

If you find termites in a palm stump near your house, call a pest control professional to get an inspection. It’s possible that termites migrate into your home from an infested palm tree stump near your house—particularly if they’re subterranean termites, and palm tree termites tend to be subterranean termites. You should remove the palm stump, but that will not necessarily destroy a subterranean termite colony because they live in the ground under the palm stump, only using the stump for food.

Removing their food source would cause them to explore nearby for new food sources, which may push them toward your home. This is why it’s best to have a pest control professional take a look and offer you some options.

How to treat a palm tree stump for termites

To exterminate termites on a tree stump, you can use Dominion 2L insecticide. Drill some injection holes and pour Dominion 2L into the palm stump, letting it seep in. You can also dig a trench around the stump (though roots will make this difficult) and pour Dominion 2L into the trench to reach subterranean termite colonies in the soil near the palm stump.

An easier option is to simply remove the palm stump, but before doing so, it’s a good idea to exterminate the termites, particularly if they’re subterranean termites, so they don’t spread to other trees or your house (assuming they haven’t already). If you know you have termites in a palm stump, it’s best to get a professional termite inspection to ensure termites didn’t make their way to your home.

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